What are vaginal tears?
Vaginal tears are common during childbirth. They occur when your baby’s head is too large for your vagina to stretch around. Women at a higher risk of vaginal tears include:
- first-time mothers
- mothers whose babies have a high birth weight
- mothers who had a long delivery
- mothers who had assisted birth, such as with forceps or vacuum
Tears can heal within 7 to 10 days with appropriate treatment. However, you can be sore for a few weeks afterward.
Depending on the severity of the tear, you may receive stitches or prescriptions for medicated creams and ointments.
You can expect some discomfort, bleeding, and swelling following delivery and a vaginal tear. There are ways you can relieve this discomfort at home and encourage healing. You should discuss these treatments with your healthcare provider before trying them.
Applying ice packs to the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time can help reduce swelling. Many drugstores sell ice packs that resemble sanitary pads and can be worn in your underwear.
If you use an ice pack, cover it with a clean cloth to protect your skin from the cold. You shouldn’t use an ice pack for more than 20 minutes at a time, as it can cause nerve damage.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a stool softener or recommend an over-the-counter stool softener, such as docusate sodium (Colace). This will reduce your need to strain when you have a bowel movement. You shouldn’t resist a bowel movement if you feel the urge to go, as it can lead to constipation.
Staying clean and dry
Your healthcare provider will likely provide you with a squeeze bottle or sitz bath so you can keep your perineal area moist and clean after delivery.
You can put lukewarm water in a squeeze bottle and use it as a rinse after going to the bathroom. Sitz baths are small, plastic tubs that fit over a toilet bowl. You can fill the bath with lukewarm water and sit in it for a few minutes to cleanse your skin.
It’s hard to rest when you have a new baby but avoiding strenuous exercise can help you heal. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you avoid strenuous activity for at least two weeks after giving birth. Accept help from family and friends who offer and stay off your feet as much as possible.
Avoiding products and activities that can worsen your symptoms
You should try to avoid the following:
- salt baths
- talcum powder and perfumed lotions
- applying hot water or hot packs to your perineal area
- squatting to keep from stretching your skin too much
- sexual activity until healing is complete
- tampons, but you can use pads after delivery
- douches or vaginal cleansers
Your healthcare provider may give you additional instructions, depending on the type and severity of your tear.
Call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Vaginal tears can be painful and unpleasant but most will heal with rest and a combination of home remedies or treatment by a healthcare provider.
Severe tears are categorized in two ways:
- A third-degree laceration is a tear that extends through vaginal tissue, perineal skin, and perineal muscles that extend into the muscles around your anus.
- A fourth-degree laceration extends to the anal sphincter and the tissue beneath it.
These severe tears can cause problems with incontinence later.
Infections are possible but unlikely with proper treatment. Signs of infection from vaginal tears include fever or stitches that smell or become painful.
You should contact your healthcare provider if you have:
- symptoms of infection
- trouble controlling your bowels after a severe tear
- intense pain while urinating, or increased frequency of urination
- sanitary pads soaked with blood or you’re passing large blood clots
- severe pain in your lower abdomen, vagina, or perineum
Sometimes vaginal tears are unavoidable but there are precautions you can take to help prevent them during delivery. These precautious include:
- practicing Kegel exercises ahead of time to strengthen your pelvic floor
- taking prenatal vitamins, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining overall good health
- using a lubricant when it’s time to push
- keeping your perineum warm, such as with a warm towel, to increase blood flow and soften the muscles
If you’re concerned about vaginal tearing or at increased risk, consult your healthcare provider before you give birth to find out how to lessen your risk.
Vaginal tears are a normal complication of childbirth for many women. While some will need to be treated by a healthcare provider and may require stitches, plenty of women can treat their vaginal tears with home remedies like those listed above. You can also lessen the likelihood of experiencing a tear by taking additional precautions.
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider for additional treatment if you’re experiencing unexpected bleeding, pain, or vaginal swelling following birth, or if your vaginal tear isn’t healing or is getting worse.